When Downtown in Business was launched in 2004, the economy was growing at 3.1% per annum. It’s understandable, but still unforgivable that the then Chancellor Gordon Brown was saying “no more boom and bust.”
But Gordon had his distractions, like undermining the Prime Minister Tony Blair at every turn. With Britain bogged down in Iraq and the shine knocked off the New Labour project, Blair was looking forward to his final General Election campaign.
Blair defeated the Tory leader Michael Howard and two years later was gone, just in time. Within weeks, the Northern Rock Building Society collapsed; a harbinger of the Great Recession that followed in 2008.
The recession has really framed the work of Downtown and the businesses we work with for most of the decade under review.
Some statisticians believe that this recession has been worse than the one in the 1930s. It was certainly worse than the many downturns the UK economy has suffered since the sixties. It has triggered relentless cuts in public services and benefits that are fundamentally reshaping the way our councils deliver services.
But employers in the North reacted in an interesting way. They kept their workers on the payroll and as a consequence unemployment never scaled the heights that the collapse in demand would have suggested.
It has left a legacy of low pay and a vigorous debate about the cost of living, but the fact that key workers were retained might help explain why the economy is reviving quickly now. We may avoid the skills gap that has choked off past recoveries.